"The security industry is very conservative"

Martin Gren, co-founder of Axis.

At the age of 14 he started making and selling disco lights and when he was 22 he started Axis with Mikael Karlsson and Keith Bloodworth. Today, Martin Gren, 50, is ranked as the most influential person in the security industry by Ifsec Global and last autumn he was awarded the prize of "Security entrepreneur of the Year" by the Scandinavian edition of Detektor magazine.

Congratulations on the number one position and the award, how does it feel?
- It is of course a great honour. It's great to see that network camera technology has been broadly accepted and this award clarifies that even more.

You could actually have won in any year, why do you think it happened 2012?
- 2012 was the year Axis became the biggest player in the world when it comes to surveillance cameras, not just network cameras. That is the ultimate evidence that network cameras have won as we don't make analogue cameras.

What makes a good entrepreneur?
- The ability to really be enthusiastic about something and invent products that meet the right customer demand at the right time. Although our network camera was launched before the market was truly ready and with inadequate frame rate it quickly became better as time went by.

You are probably seen as an innovator by many. Do you feel like an entrepreneur or an innovator?
- I feel a lot more like an entrepreneur. Even if I and Carl-Axel Alm designed the first network camera that wasn't the hard part. The tricky bit was to bring it to the market. I have always had a great interest in business and I started trading stocks as a teenager, which wasn't common back then.

You were already an entrepreneur in your teens.
- Yes, I was fourteen years old. Back then I sold disco lights that flashed spotlights to music. It was an electrical product that was used a lot in discos. I made them and had class mates as resellers, and I learned a lot. That business financed my interest in electronics, but at the age of eleven I had already decided that I wanted to have my own business.

What kind of electronics were you interested in?
- Building hardware, and later on microcomputers which I built from scratch. I mainly did it for the fun of it. This was also how I got to know Mikael Karlsson, co-founder of Axis and CEO for sixteen years. He found out that I was good at designing things that would sell. Together we started a consultancy business called Gren & Karlsson Firmware AB and sold graphics cards to Luxor and communication solutions to Diab. In 1984 we started Axis together with Keith Bloodworth, who was a salesman and the brain behind the Axis business model.

You have created all your jobs yourself.
- Yes, apart from summer jobs all my jobs have been self-created. This was also during a time when running your own company was seen as being a failure, and only for those who weren't good enough to work for someone else. This was the general opinion in the seventies and eighties. Luckily this has changed a lot.

How have you noticed that?
- I often present lectures for universities and schools about business and entrepreneurship. The attitude is so much better now. That's great and I think it will be even better in the future.

Is there a secret to being a good entrepre­ neur? If a product or service is launched at the right time doesn't it have a lot to do with coincidence.
- That's correct. It's about coincidences and luck. The network camera started with mr Alm making a system for network video conferences. I didn't really believe in it, and even if it would work it wouldn't be salable through Axis channels. I proposed that we should make a camera instead and Carl-Axel thought that was a good idea. Our timing was perhaps a stroke of luck, but there was also a certain amount of skill involved. We saw that the market for surveillance cameras was entirely analogue and understood that it had to be digital some day.

How do you feel about venture capital?
- Often, what a new entrepreneur needs first is not money. He might think that he needs money, but what he really needs is knowledge. The most important thing when starting a business is to start with the customers. If you start with a bag of money you will become good at asking for more money, and then more money, and so it continues. Entrepreneurship is about solving a problem and if you succeed and the solution is good enough to create value the money part will automatically be solved for you.

You recently celebrated your 50th birthday and have worked with Axis for more than half of your lifetime, what motivates you?
- Having fun! There is nothing better than working with Axis and I plan to continue with that.

Today you're a board member at Axis, what else do you do?
- I do a mixture of things. During the last year I lectured a lot about network video. I also do camera testing a great deal and I still get very upset when a camera doesn't work as it should. On my business card it says Director, New Projects. Within that unit we produce new products that do not necessarily belong to the category of network video.

Rumour has it that Axis is going to target the access control market.
- They would have to be products that are related to security in some way and suited to being sold through our sales model of distributors and system integrators. Access control is something that some of our partners want us to do, but the access control business is quite different and no decision has been taken yet. The same goes for alarms and several other products, but we have to make careful evaluations before entering a new market. One of our big advantages today is that we are focused on networked video.

How involved are you in product releases?
- I usually bring home one of each new model and install it in my house or in my summer house. If you want to see the latest Axis cameras you should visit my summer house.

Are you sometimes involved from the very beginning of a new product?
- Sometimes, it varies. I have been very much involved in edge storage, which is when you store images locally in the camera. We have seen it with Axis Camera Companion and I think it will be a game shifter in the industry. The VMS won't be eliminated, it will be needed regardless of where video is stored. But with Axis Camera Companion the installation becomes a lot easier and this technology will be used to address the camera market for smaller installations, for example a small shop. It will take a while before it has it's break through, but I think it will be a game shifter just like the network camera. Finally we can get rid of the DVR!

Which are the biggest trends in the market today?
- Edge storage and hosted video. We have also seen that the transition to HD has occurred. Analogue is still competing with HD, but, I believe, analogue doesn't stand a chance.

What's your opinion on Security­as­a­Service and hosted video?
- The security industry is very conservative. It's one of few markets where analogue technology still has such a big market share today. That makes it hard for new ideas such as Security-as-a-Service to grow. It isn't happening as fast as we would like, but it's definitely on the rise. The logic for it is obvious. Everyone wanting a surveillance service must have it as a service. Just putting up a camera and hoping it will solve all problems isn't very smart. When this can be combined with edge storage the value will be very attractive as you have both local and remote storage of your video.

Will it change the market?
- No, all security companies already sell a "service" and I think they could improve the performance of that service with video as a service.

More and more companies are running their own camera monitoring centres.
- Yes, and when the big security companies such as Securitas and G4S really start to adapt to network video they will be able to equip their personnel with smartphones or tablets, and when an alarm is triggered they will have video access in their hands. They will be a lot more effective than they are today.

What will the market be like in the future?
- I have a strong belief in our business model. The traditional security distributor will have a tough time. I also believe in a transition to more modern IT related distributors.

And the technology?
- Moore's law can't be stopped. It shows how much more CPU can be put in a camera over time, and then it's all about figuring out what do to with the increasing CPU. There are also things that don't follow Moore's law, for example the camera lens. I love to compare a surveillance camera to the human eye, and there are areas where each of them is still better. Putting a 20 megapixel sensor on a lens is not an issue, we have done that for years. But we want it to provide an image quality corresponding to the specifications, and that is not easily done today.

Will the HD standard remain for a long time?
- Yes, I think so. But not as long as 70 years like the analogue standard.

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